Focus on vocabulary.
Kids learn academic vocabulary—including longer words—mostly through reading. So if your child shies away from reading, it’s important to find other ways to introduce her to new words.
Keep her vocabulary on track by talking about new words while you read aloud to her. Let her choose audiobooks you can enjoy together in the car. Or watch a documentary about something she’s really interested in. While you do, point out new words. Talk about what they mean, and ask your child to practice saying them out loud.
Have her tap out the syllables.
Pick a word with three or more syllables and say it out loud. Ask your child to say it aloud, too, and tap out each syllable she hears. She should tap with a little extra force on whichever syllable is stressed. This exercise uses a variety of senses. That gives her multiple ways to process and recall every syllable in the word.
Talk about sounds.
Like tapping out syllables, talking about individual sounds or “phonemes” in a word can boost your child’s ability to say and remember longer words. Imagine you’re working on the word phenomenal. Ask your child what sound she hears at the beginning of the word. Or ask her to identify the sound that comes first in the second syllable.
Keep a word journal.
Encourage your child to keep a word journal—a record of words she’s working on. Once a week, pick 10 practice words with her. Ask her to write each one down and break it apart into syllables. Have her say the word several times. Then talk about what it means and come up with synonyms and opposites. This helps your child store the words in her long-term memory. And that can make them easier for her to access later, when she’s talking or writing.
Forget about it!
It may seem strange, but remembering information after we’ve forgotten it actually helps us recall that information over time. So when you’re practicing a specific word from the word journal, try spacing out review sessions over longer and longer periods of time.
For example, do your first review a couple days after your child learns a new word. Wait another week to 10 days to review it again. After a month, review it once more. Keep track by writing the dates you practice a word next to each word in the journal.
Teach her to be a word detective.
Explain that words with multiple syllables often have prefixes and suffixes. Think pre andable in the word preventable. Learning common word parts like this helps kids predict and remember the meaning of new vocabulary words.
It also makes it easier for them to break long words into manageable chunks when reading. Knowing how a word breaks down in writing can make it easier for your child to remember and pronounce it when speaking, too.
Help her understand the syllables.
There are specific rules on how to break big words into chunks when reading. This is called syllabication. You probably learned these rules in school. Things like, “every syllable has one vowel sound in it.” Or, “when two consonants come between two vowels, you usually break the word between the consonants (un·der).”
You can ask your child’s teacher for material on syllabication rules, or you can look them up on the Internet. Knowing these rules will help your child attack long words in reading. It can also help her remember and say the words correctly when she’s speaking.
Brainstorm backup strategies.
There will be times when your child will have to figure out the pronunciation of a word on her own. Make sure she’s prepared. Identify backup strategies for when she just can’t remember or pronounce the word she wants to say.
Check out web-based dictionaries together. They can provide a definition and a recorded pronunciation of the word. Talk about the practice strategies that seem to work best for her, and encourage her to use them in class. And make sure she knows it’s OK to use smaller words to describe what she means if she can’t remember a long word.
Have some fun!
Practicing longer words doesn’t have to be all business. There are many word games you can tweak to focus on your child’s vocabulary goals. Just make sure you choose ones that work with—or that you can make work with—her challenges. Games like Taboo, Outburst, Pictionary or Twenty Questions can get the whole family involved. That can make learning vocabulary fun—and having fun can motivate your child to practice.